No. 2 Bears roll over SFA in home opener

Stephen F. Austin guard David Kachelries, center, shoots between Baylor guards Davion Mitchell, left, and Jared Butler, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

With 43 points off the bench, No. 2 Baylor men’s basketball rolled to a 4-0 start on an 83-52 victory over Stephen F. Austin in the Bears’ home opener Wednesday night. Baylor played an aggressive defense that forced 35 turnovers which led to 40 of Baylor’s points.

Head coach Scott Drew said his team knew how tough it would be to play the Lumberjacks, especially on short notice.

“I can tell you when we knew we were going to play SFA, Coach [Kyle] Keller does an unbelievable job with his team. They were 28-3 last year with an 18-game win streak. Eight returning players from last year’s team and a ton of seniors and juniors. So we knew we had our work cut out for us,” Drew said. “Coming off finals, I was obviously worried about the players’ energy and rhythm with not practicing as much. But I thought they did a great job. That run at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half was really the difference.”

The first half was defense heavy and highly physical with the Bears regaining a short lead over SFA early in the game and building it up as the half continued. It wasn’t until the end of the half that Baylor began to pull away, going on a 9-0 run back-to-back-to-back three pointers by freshman guard LJ Cryer, junior forward Matthew Mayer and sophomore transfer guard Adam Flagler. Baylor then came out of the half with a three-pointer by starting junior guard Davion Mitchell, who said he was looking to shoot when the defenders went under on the pick-and-roll while he was on top.

“It just kind of depends on the way the game is going,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to take a crazy shot when we like to get to the hole or something like that. But nine times out of 10, I’m looking to shoot when they go under.”

Flagler led the Bears in scoring with 14 points, knocking down 11 in the first half alone. He went 3-for-5 from the three and 3-for-4 from the free throw line while also nabbing three steals. Sophomore forward Johnathan Tchamwa Tchatchua followed with 13 points and six rebounds, while junior starting guard Jared Butler tallied 12 points and seven assists.

Mitchell scored 11 points of his own and also had seven assists and four steals. Mayer grabbed 10 points off the bench with an assist, two steals and two blocks. Of the five players to score in double digits against the Lumberjacks, three of them were non-starters.

“I love our bench,” Drew said. “I think Coach Keller gave our bench the biggest compliment when he said they’ve been playing our bench’s highlights from the Illinois game in their locker room just to show how energized. We’ve gotten so many compliments nationwide about how our bench really gives us energy.”

While the Bears stood out statistically, shooting 89% from the free throw line while forcing a large number of turnovers and garnering major production from their bench, it was SFA who won the battle of the boards 33-28, gaining five more rebounds off the offensive glass with 12 offensive rebounds to Baylor’s seven. Defensively both teams matched up with 21 boards each. The Bears also gave up 20 turnovers of their own.

Baylor will kick off Big 12 play against Texas at 2 p.m. this Sunday in the Ferrell Center.